Secondary challenges

SUNSET - At some point over the next few weeks, Brent Venables will have to find the right blend of youth and experience at defensive back.

But that's why he gets paid the big bucks.

Entering his second season on staff at Clemson, Venables will welcome back six DBs with significant experience at the college level. He'll also have eight who were playing on Friday nights last fall.

Regardless of age, the Tigers' secondary needs help. Last season, they finished 62nd in the country in pass efficiency defense and 71st in pass defense.

That's part of the reason why eight DBs were added to the roster in February.

"In a perfect world, I'd take experience over talent any day, across the board any day," Venables said. "You get the teams and the defenses where you've got three-year starters they'll beat those Johnny Five-Star, one-year guys just out of high school every single time. I can't control that.

"It's going to be a balance of some youth and some experience. That's our job and responsibility as coaches, to try to put them in the most successful positions -- find out in a hurry what they can and can't do."

Making matters a little scarier for Venables is that he doesn't have a safety that has started a college game at safety.


Travis Blanks started eight games at the nickel/SAM position last season.
Robert Smith, who's penciled in as the starting strong safety, has played 163 snaps in two seasons. Travis Blanks, the free safety, played primarily at the nickel/SAM position last season.

"For the lack of experience with those guys, they have a good understanding of what we do, a great understanding," Venables said. "We'll see after that. I'm not sold on anybody after that, as far as leadership, work ethic, selfless attitude, football knowledge, all of those things. We'll see where we're at in three weeks, four weeks."

During that time, Venables will be consistent with the message he's trying to get across to every DB, regardless of age or level of experience.

"Nobody has to be Superman," he said. "Play like a division one player plays. Compete like a division one player competes. Prepare like a division one player prepares. Invest in your position and in your career. Off the field, make an investment. Show some maturity.

"Consistency, if you expect that nose guard to stay in the A-gap, if we expect you to stay inside of the post, then stay inside of the post. If we expect you to play outside leverage like we expect that defensive end to contain the quarterback, then stay outside leverage."

Venables added, "Do the little things the right way. Do it that way every snap. You don't have to be Deion Sanders, be competitive, be tough, tackle guys. Do all of the little things the right way and just do it on a consistent level."

It would help if he saw those things from the oldest, most experienced DBs on the roster.

"I expect Garry Peters, Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson, hopefully, along with Martin Jenkins, that group of guys, I hope they beat out all of those freshmen," Venables said. "But I do think we have some talented young guys to push guys, and maybe help them."

Based off of how things played out a season ago, that won't be a bad thing.

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